Prospect and PARCC, what you need to know

By Lauren Miller
14526605-mmmainOnline Associate Editor-in-Chief 
I sat down with Principal Dowling on Wednesday to try and answer any questions or rumors circulating about the PARCC test. Here are those answers. Also, the main take-away from each answer is bolded.
Q: So what is the PARCC test and why are we having it at Prospect?
A: Because it’s the first year of actual testing, it’s not going to affect anyone, so kids don’t need to be nervous; teacher’s don’t need to be nervous. “Are we prepared, are we not prepared?”… “Is the test too hard is the test too easy? How do we make it more reliable? How do we make it more valid?” Whenever you do surveys of tests, you do them for several years to kind of balance them out, to tweak them, to get them right. It takes a while to write a really good test, so the purpose of the test for this year is for that purpose. But the national government has told every state that they need to find a way to evaluate common core. This is how the state of Illinois is choosing to test that.
Q: How is this test affecting senior finals and [how] will refusing this test effect senior finals in any way?
A: I don’t know yet because we have not gotten to that point. This test will not determine whether or not you will take final exams. We will either go to the ACT, or everyone will take finals, or everyone won’t take finals. We haven’t even addressed that yet, but this test is not going to affect that.
Q: What is the incentive for students to be taking this test?
A: That’s hard for me because obviously I’m not a student, but I can tell you what the incentive is for a school and why we want kids to do it. The incentive is to create a better school and across the state to make sure that standards are being met. It’s very different, however, than like taking the ACT where when you’re done, you have a score. … You can apply it to college, so in that regard I understand the frustration kids have because obviously as a principal I think I have that same frustration. We would like it to have meaning for kids, and nobody is going to see this score except for you. The only thing I can suggest is that the state keeps saying that PARCC is a placement test. So what it will help you determine what skills you are deficient on when you leave for college because it will tell you where you’re weak and where you’re strong, so that would be it. But can it be used for admissions? No.
Q: I know that for the algebra, it’s all Advanced Algebra students and for the English it’s all juniors, so how is that going to work for the juniors that have advanced algebra and those who don’t?
A: The logistics of this test is one of the big frustrations that the schools have because it’s very disruptive on the schedule. We don’t want to have the test and not have kids come to school because then there would be many kids not coming to school and missing a lot of instruction. For example it’s done by skills that are attained. You might be a sophomore already attaining those skills or a junior attaining those skills, so that’s why it’s not just done by grade level. So what’s going to happen to the kids who are in those math classes? Obviously, math isn’t going to happen on that math testing day whether you’re a sophomore or a junior in that class. Your other classes are still in session.
Q: So what would it look like missing a day due to the PARCC test, while the rest of their classes are going on?
A: The teachers in the building are aware that this is going on, and if there’s overlap, they’ll know of it. I’m not sure how much overlap there is and that we won’t know until after the fact. So that’s why we do these; it gives us information. We’ve never done it before, so we don’t really know. But the hope is that it’s not going to be too bad. The entire staff knows who’s testing, so we’re just going to see how it goes.
Q: What is the format of it?
A: Here are links to the practice English Test and the practice Algebra 2 Test.
A: Originally the state required schools to use all technology, but then they realized that not all school are set up to do this yet. We happen to be in pretty good shape, but we’re a district that puts a lot of money into technology. So then they came back and said, “Well we understand that technology is a little nutty so if you want to just do one test with technology, still use paper for one, that’s okay.” Prospect decided to do only one on paper and one using iPads, just because it’s an unknown and we didn’t want to make it horrible both days, if it’s an unknown and it doesn’t work. We know how to do paper tests.
Dowling: Okay, remember after that practice ACT after lunch when [the juniors] sat there? That’s what we were trying to do to see if we could get 500 iPads to work. It was horrible. We have fixed that, but if we wouldn’t have done that we wouldn’t have known. I actually went to the Superintendent and I said, “It was an hour those kids were sitting there, and they were awesome but it was brutal.” He said, “But Michelle, we’re lucky this year, but from now on testing will be all on computers. We might as well practice and make mistakes and blow it up when it’s a pilot year rather than when it’s the real thing because when it’s the real thing if we mess up, then there’s problems.” It doesn’t make Prospect look bad if we fall apart. It’s a year to kind of experiment, so we’re lucky we can experiment.
Q: Which tests are going to be iPad vs. paper?
A: Monday is the English test, which is on paper. Wednesday is the Math test; that’s the one that is going to be done on iPads.
Q: How is the day going to be broken up?
A: The Assessment Center has a schedule of Monday that will be sent out to the families of all students taking the test.
Q: Is there a plan in place in case the iPads malfunction?
A: Absolutely we have planned for that. We have 30 iPads coming from the district office. We have 30 iPads here. We have charged extra ones with the notion that, “Oh my Gosh, I forgot to charge it, or I forgot to update and now I’m not compatible.” We can just slip you an iPad and be ready to go.
Q: How do students go about refusing, and I heard that there has been a letter circulating telling students how to refuse. Is that true?
A: Well they didn’t get a letter from us. We didn’t send anything out asking kids to refuse. Our position is that we want all of our kids to take it. I think if you go to the Illinois State Board of Ed, and you read through it — and parents have done that — there’s a place where they give you information if you refuse to take the test. If that’s the case, students are still required to come. They are still required to sign in as if they were going to take the test and then they would tell an administrator “I’m refusing.” You would leave the room. We would take you to another room where you would fill out paperwork and then you are going to go to your classes, so it’s pretty simple. You’re not going to be embarrassed; it’s just we want you out of there so we can continue, but you don’t get the day off, and you don’t get to sit in a room by yourself. You’re going to do your schedule, with the exception on Monday your English class. You’re obviously not going to go to English because everyone in English is taking the test. On Wednesday you’re not going to go to your math class because obviously everybody’s taking the math test… We will give you a study hall that period and we’ll take attendance.
Q: I know that there are some students who are talking about refusing, and if they do and there is only one student in a class, how would that work?
A: They are going to go to their classes and the teachers are there. They (the teachers) know that they might have one kid, they might have 20 kids. The teachers are going to have to make a professional decision. If everyone’s there they will move on, and if they are not they’ll do something like enrichment; [enrichment] is related to the topic, but not something that is high stake. We certainly would not want a kid, who decided to actually take the test, to miss out on valuable instruction because they were choosing to comply. That wouldn’t be fair.
Q: There have been rumors circulating about other schools who have refused.
A: As a school I cannot refuse this test because then I would be violating school code. I would be breaking the law. I am required to offer the test, so I can never say as a school we are refusing. An individuals can come to me and say, “I’m refusing to take the test.” And I can say, “Well I would like you to take the test, because it’s school law that you do take the test, and that I administer the test.” So a school would never refuse and a district would never opt out; it’s only an individual student coming to them and saying, “I’m refusing to do this.”
Q: With CPS, who has decided to do this because they need the funding, and for us there have been rumors circulating that it was to stay in the IHSA. Does that play a role at all in this?
A: Well, what happens is if we break school law, there are sanctions. If we are not compliant, we don’t get to be a part of state programs, which is sports and funding. We do have some schools, not Prospect, that get title funds because they have a high minority population, or a high population of students who are at poverty level. They would lose their funding and it’s significant. So as a state we have to conform. There was confusion over this, Chicago Public Schools realize that they need to be compliant.
Q: What else would you want students to know?
A: Don’t stress about it. It’s just a pilot so that the state can get some information. I think a lot of us are feeling discomfort because we don’t know what the test looks like. Teachers are nervous, “What if I didn’t prepare kids?” Kids are nervous, “What if I don’t get accepted to college on this test? I really don’t think I can sit there that long.” There’s a lot of different stressors. Just go in and do your best. Plow through and in the end I think we will get good information. Good information like: this test isn’t worth while or this test is worth while if we tweak it and fix it. But if we don’t do it, we won’t know. Regardless of which direction the state goes, they won’t know if they don’t have any information, and we will be doing this every year until they can get enough (information). It’s prolonging the inevitable. My viewpoint on it is let’s just do it, do the best that we can on it, and not stress about it and we will go from there. I told this to the teaching staff.  We are a really great school and it would be a shame if our school didn’t get to show what we can do. Quite honestly, if Prospect doesn’t do well on this test, there is a problem with the test. This is a really good school, and if we don’t take the test how will they know that?
Q: Would you say that this is proving the school as a whole?
A: It’s a program test, so it’s not a reflection on you or a reflection on a teacher. It’s what skills have we covered and what have we not. But remember, it may not even measure what we have been taught and what we haven’t been taught, but that is what the test is trying to determine. If we don’t don’t take the test, you can’t check reliability and validity. You wouldn’t even know if it was a good measurement.
Q: What do you believe the future of the PARCC test would be? Replace the Prairie State or replace the ACT altogether?
A: It does replace the Prairie State. Where are we going to go with this? I don’t know. There is a new governor and there’s different viewpoints of what this should look like. We’re in such a state of flux right now that I think nobody knows, so we’re trying to be compliant and to get through.